Two years and one pandemic ago, our family began church planting. My husband is a church planter in Southern California, and our little church had only been meeting for only six months when COVID hit and our doors closed. It has been a tumultuous year and a half for all those involved in church plants. This month, I was reminded by Chinese believers of why they persevere in starting new churches through circumstances even more chaotic and unstable than COVID.
Here are four things I gleaned this month from Chinese Christians about church planting:
Welcome, Challenge, and Invite People Into Your Church Plant
Sometimes I need a reminder that asking people to join in church planting is about a vision much bigger than one new church. This Chinese pastor was not shy in asking his members to leave his church and join the new plant. This is not because he wanted fewer members, but because he believes that starting more Christ-exalting bodies of believers across his city is the best way to bring the gospel to more people. Church planting honors God, and physical closeness to the church makes building community much easier. It also makes it easier for church members to invite non-believing friends and neighbors into the life of their church. I do not need to be worried about how people will respond to church planting; I can joyously present the vision and encourage them to join.
Despite the labor pangs, church planting is worth it
Sun Lei, a Chinese church planter, eloquently articulated the struggles of church planting: budget shortfalls, difficulty finding qualified leaders and willing volunteers, and sorrow at the loss of time with treasured friends. Although all of these (and more) difficulties are real, church planting is worth it. He wrote, “Worship services on Sunday do not exist for the end of [that] service in itself. Instead, weekly services are themselves a commissioning, an evangelical sending of all called disciples into the world to ‘make disciples of all nations.’”
When I am worried about finances or worn out by hosting, I must preach this message to myself. (Good boundaries are also important!) Establishing gospel communities is not easy work. Jesus himself told us the gates of hell are against his church, although they are sure to fail in the end. There will be troubles, but a vision of the goal gives strength to persevere in the meantime.
Would You Pray With Us Today?
Make choices driven by gospel love and wisdom, not fear
COVID has brought lots of opportunities for our fledgling church to weigh the difference between love and fear. In fact, this has been a main meditation this year: how does one make difficult decisions?
Church planters in the States are not the only ones to face this moral calculus. Hu Yongjie, a Shanghai church planter, said this is also something he wrestles with. “The more fear and anxiety, the more I am pushed to pray,” he said. “Every decision needs to be driven by the gospel, instead of by fear, even if the result seems the same.”
Families Should Make Church Planting Decisions Together
I have three children; my eldest is eight. Planting a church and caring well for our family continues to be the most important thing for my husband I to figure out. It’s also probably the hardest to consistently do well.
Pastor Hu again reminded me of how important it is for families to seek God together to make his will and ways known to every member of the family, not just the parents. He said, “No decision is personal; everything is a family decision. In our household we pray a lot, and have a lot of theological discussions. In the last four years, since I have been a church planter, my wife and I have had very healthy but hard conversations. Both of us have grown theologically and personally. We also pray a lot with our daughter. Even now, we involve her in these conversations, because everybody needs to be a good steward.”
Parents must involve their children in the vision and call to church planting. We must seek God’s will as a family, instead of handing down decisions from on high. When we commit to wrestle together with God’s call and to seek his face in fellowship with one another—yes, even in fellowship with lisping toddlers and hyperactive kindergarteners—that is how we train our children to love and follow God.
E.F. Gregory is a mom of three young children. She lives in the San Gabriel Valley on the border of East Los Angeles, where her husband is a P.C.A. church planter.
FOR PRAYER AND REFLECTION
Pray for church planters across the world to learn from one another. Pray for wisdom and training to flow both ways.